The fire-prone landscapes of the West include both public and private lands. Wildfire burns indiscriminately across property boundaries, which means that the way potential fuels are managed on one piece of property can affect wildfire risk on neighboring lands.
Paige Fischer and Susan Charnley, social scientists with the Pacific Northwest Research Station, surveyed private landowners in eastern Oregon to learn how they perceive fire risk on their land and what they do, if anything, to reduce that risk. The scientists found that owners who live on a forested parcel are much more likely to reduce fuels than are those who live elsewhere. Private forest owners are aware of fire risk and knowledgeable about methods for reducing fuels, but are constrained by the costs and technical challenges of protecting large acreages of forested land. Despite the collective benefits of working cooperatively, most of these owners reduce hazardous fuels on their land independently, primarily because of their distrust about working with others, and because of social norms associated with private property ownership.
These results provide guidance for developing more effective fuel reduction programs that accommodate the needs and preferences of private forest landowners. The findings also indicate the potential benefits of bringing landowners into collective units to work cooperatively, raising awareness about landscape-scale fire risk, and promoting strategies for an “all lands” approach to reducing wildfire risk.
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